I recently watched a program featuring Dunleary on the Irish Coast and, specifically, an open-sea bathing area known as Forty Foot, where hardy souls brave the chilly waters of Dublin Bay all year round. On Christmas Day the number of swimmers increases significantly as festive frolickers plunge in.
I wouldn’t like to think how cold the Irish Sea would be in the height of summer let alone the depths of winter. But it did look gloriously wild and rugged and the chance of coming nose to nose with grey seals might warrant the risk of hypothermia.
Here in my Bayside suburb of Melbourne, there’s a mob called the Brighton Icebergers – they’ve been around since the 1980s and even have their own website – who swim year round in the Bay. And don’t confuse Melbourne with more tropical parts of Australia – the water here drops to around 7-12 degrees in winter and the air temperature might be a mere 5 degrees topped off with a wind chill factor. And when it’s cloudy, the water can seem as grey as the Atlantic.
I’ve certainly made the most of the warm summer days and enjoyed swimming in water at an ambient 20 degrees followed by a spell in the sun to dry off afterwards. A few weeks ago I met a seasoned Iceberger who tried to convert me: “The water’s lovely even in winter,” he said, describing how he puts on a neoprene cap over his regular swimming cap to insulate his head against the cold. “The worst thing you can do is to jump straight into a hot shower when you get home. Your body’s numb and you need to warm up gradually. Anyway, you should be used to the cold, you’re British.”
How many times do I get that comment?! And how many times do I reply that a person’s ability to tolerate extremes of temperature is not so much determined by geography as by constitutional type. Having said that geography can of course influence your body type (think Inuits, for example), but not in my case. I didn’t tell my fellow burgher and iceberger that if I go swimming when the outside temperature is anything less than a warm 20-something, preferably 25 or over, my hands go numb and my ears ache.
I may have terrible circulation, but my Anglo-Saxon heritage has made me stoic when it comes to dealing with inclement weather. I think nothing of putting on waterproofs (you still get soaked) and walking Bertie even if it’s tipping down with rain and blowing a gale. Thirty-something years of (often) wet holidays in the UK and family walks in all weathers, come rain or shine, have proved a good training ground.
What’s more, I once sat through A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the pouring rain in the garden of an Oxford college – the show clearly had to go on even if it were more like a midwinter night’s dream. It was hard to concentrate on the rhyming couplets as the rain puddled in the grooves of the bucket chairs on which we were sitting, forming a mini lake around our bottoms.
And just last summer when I was in England, Dad, Sally and I had a wet picnic in the Yorkshire Dales. But, this time, with a combined age of 216, the three of us opted to stay in the car and enjoy the wonderful views. Without all that rain, of course, the fields wouldn’t be such a lush and vivid green. Sally, who is wonderfully organised and a fabulous hostess, had prepared a delicious lunch served in 1970s orange-coloured Tupperware-like containers. A bit like an in-flight meal but way better, we had bread and butter in one compartment, prawn cocktail in another, strawberries in another and so on.
As I write this the temperature is climbing to a sticky 33 degrees in Melbourne. If I had managed to get out of bed an hour earlier, I would have been able to enjoy a swim before getting to my desk. A bit like all-weather swimmers, I greatly admire people who can get up between five and six every morning. I am definitely a lark rather than an owl, but I’m currently struggling to get out of bed at 7am! Anyway, mustn’t grumble as the Brits would say (that’s the thing we grumble, we don’t whinge) as I might fit in a swim after work instead. If I can first clear my desk…